WebSource East conference

Last Friday I attended the Websource East conference with some of the guys from Soak at the rather nice halls of the Kings Centre in Norwich. The room was pretty busy as you can see and it was great to bump into some other designers I knew both former people from Soup and some guys from Spring in Southwold.  It seemed people had come from quite some distance for this, I met a couple of guys who had come across from Birmingham. There was a good buzz in the air especially with the bottomless tea and coffee urns and the promise of a ‘high quality buffet’ for lunch.

Alan Hamlyn
, young chap who works out of Great Yarmouth, kicked the day off with a presentation on SEO Magic, including a 5 minute clip from the IT Crowd. It was essentially SEO for beginners, old hat to the specialists among us, but interesting for me to get a good overview of something I’ve always considered a bit of a black art. An interesting point he raised was that it is important to watch what people are using your site for and consider creating content to match their needs.

Dan Gates followed next with a talk about using Social Media. The key message was that if you’re going to use social media as a business you need to be human with it and interact with your audience, not just spam them with self promotional messages. It was a shame that the wi-fi wasn’t working, as Dan had apparently got a Twitter based experiment he was going to get the conference involved in. He also didn’t address the potential perils of failing to use social media in an open and transparent way, something I think most businesses should consider before deciding to start up a Facebook group.

Joel Hughes
, with the unenviable slot of just-before-lunch, gave a very well received talk about how he runs his design business and how he deals with difficult clients. He spoke passionately about standing firm with your design principles and the importance of finding a system that works for you and sticking to it. His policy of taking a ‘deposit’ on all jobs caused some debate from the audience, some preferred payment on delivery, one even said that he always gets paid before starting a project, but served to reinforce Joel’s point about having your own business approach.

Dave Ashden
lamented after lunch, that developers are often happy to be undervalued. He urged them to become more pro-active within their jobs and actively try to understand the roles of the people they work with to make projects much more organic rather than first planning, then designing, then building. Everyone involved needs to work together from start to finish. I think much of what he said, although it was directed at developers, can apply to designers and planners too. There is a great deal to be said for understanding what the people around you do and a bit of empathy for their roles and skills can only help to build a stronger, more successful team.

Cennydd Bowles, of ClearLeft and Relly Annett-Baker gave a double-act presentation on the tenuously linked subjects of User Experience and Content creation. Cennydd described his process of decoding the problem a client has brought them and challenging every assumption they have in a constructive way. His main goal is to identify the audience and ensure that any work that is produced is aimed at them, not at the client. He even goes so far as to create fictional profiles of target users so that everyone knows who they’re trying to reach. Relly began with an excellent analogy of the web as a collaborative book, one where we’ve designed a beautiful cover, chosen a great paper stock and even the font, but have failed to agree on what is actually going into it.

Last, but certainly not least was Eliott Jay-Stocks, who gave the most provocative speech of the day; Stop Worrying and Get On With It. He ruffled the feathers of the developers from Soak by arguing that we should be designing to reward the minority who use new browsers rather than focusing on making everything look the same in old browsers. He pointed out the irony that despite the web being such a fast moving, progressive medium so much of the design that is being created is very safe and boring.

All in all a really interesting day, the variety of speakers and their choice of topics was impressive, providing the fuel for much fiery debate down the pub later that evening. Hopefully Norwich will play host to more events like this in the future, and with such a strong web community it flipping well should.


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